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Emissions legislation under discussion in Australia

World Cement,

Critics are concerned about the effects on the country’s industries, citing the Rockhampton cement plant closure as an example of things to come. Emissions legislation is the talk of the town in Australia, where the Rudd government is pushing for a carbon reduction policy to be finalised in advance of the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December.

Emissions trading
The government had proposed a carbon trading programme whereby the country’s 1000 worst polluters had to buy CO2 permits, with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 5 – 25% by 2020. The bill was rejected by parliament in a recent vote, with some claiming the legislation does not go far enough and others fearing that it will be damaging to Australia’s industries. The government is keen to pursue the legislation, however – there is even talk of an early election over the debate – for fear of being thought ‘backward’ at the United Nations meeting in Denmark.

How will this impact the cement industry?
Already, some media reports have blamed the proposed emissions legislation for the closure of Cement Australia’s Rockhampton facility and the loss of 31 jobs. The official word from the plant, however, is that this was one of a number of contributing factors that ultimately led to the decision to shut down the plant; other reasons include the general economic slowdown and a 53% increase in rail charges between Rockhampton and Melbourne. The workers, meanwhile, have been offered jobs at the Gladstone plant 100 km away.

In the national media, Cement Australia’s Chief Executive Chris Leon is cited as saying “I think there is an argument that what happened in Rockhampton is what (the ETS) is designed to do…The Rockhampton plant was by far our least efficient”. This is by no means the outraged response of a company brought to its knees. In fact, cement plants have been taking responsibility for cleaning up the production process for years, setting their own emissions reduction targets, as is evidenced by the efforts of the WBCSD Cement Sustainability Initiative.

Cement Australia is currently making news for pumping money into more efficient plants elsewhere, such as the recent opening of its new laboratory and offices at the Darra plant in Queensland. At an investment of almost AU$ 10 million, the redevelopment aims to reduce the amount of plant traffic in congested streets around the town’s railway station. A further AU$ 4 million investment is planned to reduce plant traffic even further.

Renewable energy
Originally a part of the same climate change bill as the carbon trading, but now passed in its own right, the renewable energy target bill rules that 20% of Australia’s electricity production must come from renewable sources by 2020. This quadruples the previous government’s target, set in 2001, and will draw massive investment to the green energy sector. For the moment, it is down to electricity providers to source the green energy, but surely it is only a matter of time before cement producers take steps in this direction?

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